What do you think are the key challenges of public sector innovations at the moment?
“The big challenges fall into three main categories. One is austerity, trying to maintain or even improve services at a time of squeezed budgets. In some countries this is the no.1 priority; in others it doesn’t matter so much. A second group concern big, long-run challenges like ageing or migration: it’s clear that many of the systems that worked well a generation ago are simply no longer working. A third group concern technology: how to make the most of ubiquitous technologies like smart phones, and to grapple with the complex issues surrounding a vastly greater amount of data.”
What kind of solutions do you see to these challenges?
“The solutions to these problems are very diverse. In some fields they will involve further automation of processes, like tax collection. In others, they will involve much more intensive, and face to face, support both from professionals and probably from volunteers – for example for the long-term unemployed. And in many fields I think we’ll see a growing emphasis on systems and systems redesign, for example to address the handovers between different institutions – such as schools and employers.
Overriding all of these I see one of the vital priorities for public sectors in the years ahead as becoming much more systematic in organizing knowledge about solutions: in the UK, for example, we’ve been creating ‘what works’ centres to provide guidance to policy-makers, head-teachers, police and others.”
Where have you come across with these challenges during your career? What would be the most interesting example?
“15 years ago one I worked on was trying to sharply reduce numbers of homeless people sleeping on the streets of big cities. This required a complete redesign of how systems of support worked – changes to budgets, measurement, cultures – and broadly succeeded. A very live current example is the reshaping of health and social care to cope with a population in which incidence of dementia, depression and other conditions are on the rise. The hospital based health systems of the 20th century are wholly unsuited to these new challenges.”
What would be your advice to the public sector managers in Finland – what should they know about innovations?
“In any field I think that managers now need to know answers to three types of question. First, what are the proven models around the world that are worthy of being adopted or adapted? Innovation isn’t always necessary – and it’s always better to start off by drawing on others experiments and creativity. Second, what are the promising approaches which may not yet be proven, but point to better ways of running things? Again, these may be found anywhere in the world. And third, what are the possible options, that don’t yet exist, but should: how can these be shaped, tested and improved?”